The Global African: Reparations in the Caribbean?

TeleSUR’s The Global African: Did UK Prime Minister David Cameron inadvertently give life to the Reparations movement in the Caribbean? We also talk to the leader of a new project cutting down on energy consumption and empowering local women in Tanzania. Watch more on teleSUR

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BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African we’ll talk about reparations in the Caribbean. We’ll also look at a project empowering women and addressing climate change in Tanzania.

That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us. And don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: On September 28, an article appeared in a leading Jamaican newspaper, The Jamaica Observer, asking U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to, quote, “move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal”, unquote. The piece was authored by Hilary Beckles, chairman of the reparations commission of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This petition came on the heels of Cameron’s first official trip to Jamaica.

The piece reignited the reparations debate during Cameron’s stay, forcing him to address the issue. On September 30, speaking before the Jamaican Parliament, Cameron asserted his belief that the Caribbean had come from a long shadow of slavery. Using the analogy of two friends that had once experienced dark times, Cameron dismissed the idea of reparations altogether, calling on the Caribbean to move on.

What Prime Minister Cameron did not mention was the legacy of the slave trade on both the Caribbean and the U.K. Many of the Western powers that thrive today can trace much of their wealth to the profits made off of the slave trade. The Caribbean states, however, face many challenges, such as systemic poverty, illiteracy, and public health crises, problems that much of the industrialized world does not face. These problems are not created in a vacuum, but trace their roots to slavery and colonization.

In this segment, we’re going to discuss this movement for reparations in the Caribbean, a newly emerging, a newly energized movement for reparations.

We’re joined by Don Rojas and James Early.

Don Rojas is the former press secretary and director of communications of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada. He is currently the director of communications for the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and recently came back from a trip to the Caribbean focusing on a number of issues, including reparations.

Also joining us is James Early, a scholar and member of the board for the Institute of Policy Studies. He also recently came back from a trip to the Caribbean focusing on the issue of reparations.

Gentlemen, welcome to The Global African.

JAMES EARLY: Thank you.

DON ROJAS: Well, it’s good to be with you, brother.

FLETCHER: Always. Always.

Jamaica was visited by Prime Minister Cameron, who in his speech, I was sort of–I was struck by the arrogance and contemptuousness of his approach towards the issue of slavery and colonialism. Was I just misreading this? Do I have a chip on my shoulder or something?

ROJAS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You and millions more read exactly that contemptuousness, that arrogance, that dismissive attitude towards the people of Jamaica, indeed towards the entire Caribbean region, and I would even go further to say towards black people around the world.

What he said, essentially, was that slavery of course was an atrocity. He admitted that. The British slave trade in Jamaica in particular had caused lots of pain and anguish over many years. But he said, let’s put that behind us, you know, that’s a thing of the past. He lifted up his own country for having the, quote-unquote, courage and foresight to abolish slavery in the first half of the 19th century, but then of course said nothing about Britain’s culpability, its responsibility for 200 years of chattel slavery prior to the abolition of slavery, and basically said to the Jamaican Parliament–this is the elected body of representatives of the people–let’s move on, you know, get over it, essentially, get over this preoccupation with slavery, let’s move forward, and let’s build a relationship that is focused on the future and not on the past.

And the majority of people in Jamaica found that to be profoundly insulting. And there was an outcry from not just elected officials and leaders of civil society, but the masses as a whole. And that outcry was reflected in the media itself, people calling in to radio stations, writing letters to the newspapers, etc. And it really did rile up the Jamaican people, and indeed it had a ripple effect throughout the Caribbean region.

Now, to add insult to injury, what Cameron said in his speech to the Jamaican Parliament is that the British government is prepared to provide assistance to Jamaica to the tune of some 350 million pounds to build a prison, right, build a quote-unquote modern prison that would house Jamaican criminals currently being held in British prisons. They would be repatriated to Jamaica, and Britain would help Jamaica to build a prison to hold them in jail. It was, again, just to add salt to the wound.

EARLY: Let me just add to Don’s point, because while I think this was a brazen kind of comment, amplified by the fact that Jamaica is just about a half a century, a little over a half a century into its independence out of colonialism. And so you’ve got a head of state from a former colonial power visiting. And I think that amplifies this issue.

However, I think it’s part and parcel of a general statecraft on the part of colonial powers and on the part of the United States government, both Democrats and Republicans, keeping in mind that Democrats and Republicans here in the United States do not uphold or endorse–in fact, they reject the issue of reparations, that even the Obama administration has followed the written prescription of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against the followup protocols of the World Conference against Racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. And so, while this was very explicit, it’s part and parcel of a general orientation of Western powers.

At the same time, within weeks, the United States government put in a number of extra million dollars into reparations around the Holocaust. Prime Minister Merkel of Germany, former colonial power in Africa, upholds the teaching of the Holocaust and reparations, the ongoing reparations, for the crimes against humanity that was the Holocaust, and that this issue of expelling Jamaicans, probably significant numbers of whom are British citizens, not just immigrants, is part and parcel of a Western statecraft, i.e. the United States government, expelling Latinos from the United States and sending them back into Central America, gang members, young men in particular, who may have come with parents who do not speak Spanish but carry a Latin or Hispanic surname. And this has given rise, intensification to the gang warfare in Central America and the fleeing of children being sent by their parents so that they will be not sequestered and involved in these gangs to the United States.

So what Cameron did stands out. But let us be clear that it’s part and parcel of a general statecraft of the refusal to address the issue of reparations, including by governments here in the United States.

FLETCHER: Don, you’ve done a bit of writing on the emergence or reemergence of the reparations movement in the Caribbean.

ROJAS: Right.

FLETCHER: And I was wondering if you could just explain what has driven this reemergence. What has triggered this?

ROJAS: Yeah. Yeah. What has triggered it is a growing recognition on the part of Caribbean governments that are members of CARICOM that colonialism, the aftermath of colonialism, the legacy of slavery and colonialism, left what has been characterized as a mess in the Caribbean region, social and economic and political indicators of poverty, enduring and persistent poverty, high rates of diseases, public health indices just among the worst in the world. Both scholars and political elites are now recognizing that a lot of this that is holding back the sustainable development of the region can be traced directly to the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

That recognition, that awareness has been growing in recent years, compounded by the vulnerability of small national economies of the Caribbean region that were hit extremely hard by the global recession of 2008-2009 that pretty much put the brakes on development throughout the region, and in some cases created negative growth in many of the smaller countries. They recognize how vulnerable they were to the fluctuations in the global capitalist economy, and they felt that that was the time to in fact lift the issue of reparations up as a developmental issue, and not only as an issue of compensation for past–for historical crimes, which in itself is a legitimate demand, but also tie it in to the next stage of development in the postcolonial period.

FLETCHER: James, why did–what were your objectives, you and Danny Glover, in this most recent trip?

EARLY: Well, both Danny Glover and I have, among other areas of the world, including here in United States, been involved in a lot of international issues with Afro Latins. And because of our history of being positioned particularly around certain government leadership and in relationship to on-the-ground grassroots citizens organizations, we, I think, see ourselves as an added factor to the warriors that have been on the ground for many, many years. In the case of the United States of America, N’COBRA, the national coalition of black people for reparations, did the spadework and continue to do stalwart work that has given emergence to Congressman John Conyers at the level of statecraft in relationship to citizen activity. So we are trying to make a contribution to that.

But I want to not let that obscure the fact that we’ve got people like N’COBRA who for decades have been involved in this work and have set the basis for people like ourselves and others now to enter and make contributions. The same is true with regard to the Caribbean, that it is at the level of grassroots citizenry that pushed the issue of reparations in the Caribbean for many years. And then I think it was perhaps Barbados may have been the first country to actually incorporate within state government a position looking at reparations. And then you have stalwart civil society activists like Sir Hilary Beckles, vice counsel, vice chancellor for the University of the West Indies, who has also done extraordinary research.

So our objective was to try to make a contribution of being new bridges between these two activist communities, the stalwarts, again, here in the United States and those on the ground within the Caribbean.

FLETCHER: What I want to understand is: what’s the pressure point on Britain and France? Why should they? I mean, let’s just think about it for second. During the Cold War, the Caribbean was very important for Western countries, and they put all kinds of resources into the Caribbean in order to stop potential insurgencies, etc. Right? At the end of Cold War, assistance to the Caribbean just started to vanish, and it was as if the United States, Britain, and France did not give a damn anymore about the Caribbean. So what’s the pressure on these powers to even take this seriously? I mean, James mentioned before the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, and we saw what happened. After 9/11, it’s like, what World Conference against Racism? I mean, it wasn’t even being discussed. So what’s the pressure?

ROJAS: The pressure point in the United States, if–let me just begin there–I think has to tie directly in with the ongoing protest movements against the denigration of black lives at all levels of society. Some have called the Black Lives Matter movement sort of the new stage of the civil rights movement, led by young people who are demanding fair treatment from agencies of the state, in particular the police officers in cities all across the country, the critique, the mounting critique, particularly by young people, of structural racism and institutionalized racism. Right?

There are overlaps and there are tie-ins with the arguments of the reparations movement. You’re beginning to see a convergence of ideological currents from the reparations movement, which has been around for a long time in the United States, and the Black Lives Matter movement. And I think that at some point in the not-too-distant future, that convergence will in fact increase the pressure here in the U.S. on domestic policymakers to begin to address the totality of these issues.

At the level of the Caribbean region, you are correct. The strategic, the geopolitical strategic significance of the Caribbean to Britain, for example, during the Cold War period is not as high as it was, say, 20 years ago. So the pressure point on Britain would be to frame a narrative that drives home the moral responsibility, the moral duty of a, quote-unquote, civilized society like Britain to come to terms with its history, with the history of brutality against its former colonial powers that in fact have contributed to the underdevelopment and continue to impact the underdevelopment of the former colonies of Britain throughout the region, throughout the Caribbean region.

FLETCHER: James, a final word.

EARLY: If I just might add quickly, the objective conditions of colonialism, of slavery, of ongoing racism motivates our African Diaspora and African populations to press their governments for policies to address that.

Finally Barack Obama is forced as a result of a reaction in the African-American community and broader liberal-progressive communities in the United States to come out and say that we have a structural problem of racism in the United States, something that he did not really want to come to. But citizen action has forced him to that.

In the context of the Caribbean, I think it’s important for us to realize that the Caribbean again becomes a pivotal area in this hemisphere. The Russian prime minister has been there. The Chinese head of government has been there. The Indian. Everybody is going into the Caribbean and into Latin America. And this is a reflection of a new strength among Caribbean governments that can’t be pushed around in the same way that they were pushed around some years ago.

I think now we have to bring an additional consciousness to this, and that is to say to candidates, for example, in the state of Maryland, Donna Edwards, or Cummings, who may run for the Senate, what’s your position on reparation? That is a very focused, framed perspective of working with the black community for its own self-development, and not passively sit and wait to see how a few activists and a few politicians are doing this.

We have seen major strides in recent years in reparations. Now we need to bring more conscious analysis and more conscious citizen engagement, pushing their policymakers at all levels to develop packages of reparations that actually just relate to the contemporary needs of development of the African-American communities and African diaspora communities.

FLETCHER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining us on The Global African.

EARLY: Thank you.

ROJAS: Thank you for having us.

FLETCHER: Alright. Take care.

And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment. So don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: There is a fascinating development taking place in Tanzania, where the Maasai people have spearheaded a project aimed at empowering women and addressing climate change. This project, called the Maasai Stoves and Solar Project, employs many Maasai women who help build wood stoves. These stoves are much more energy-efficient than the open fires that people have traditionally used. These stoves have reportedly removed 90 percent of cooking smoke, saved large quantities of firewood, and cut down on wood-gathering labor.

Kisioki Moitiko, a leader of this project, is currently on a month-long tour here in the United States, and we had an opportunity to sit down and talk with him about this work.

Welcome to The Global African.

KISIOKI MOITIKO: Thank you so much.

FLETCHER: Our pleasure.

So I was actually–I was very intrigued about this project. It was through a friend of mine that I heard about you and this project. And I said, wow, this is really interesting. So I wondered if you could explain what exactly is this stoves and solar project. And where did it come from?

MOITIKO: Yeah. It’s really interesting to hear for someone who haven’t heard about this project. The Maasai community or society live in remote rural areas in Tanzania. And they use to cook and live in these little thatch roof homes. And it’s what attracted I and my other colleagues to start work with the Maasai women to design a stove that is appropriate for their cooking style and took all the smoke out the house. They’d been cooking with three-stone fire, and all the smoke get inside the house, make kids to be sick, make women to become blind when they get to the age of 40 or 50.

So that was a thing that have pushed us to work with the Maasai women to design a good stove that they really like and they never abandoned, and it took all the smoke from their house.

FLETCHER: So the women themselves designed the stoves?

MOITIKO: They worked with us and other engineers from United States. We have a retired Brandeis physics professor who was doing a project, a stove and solar project in Zanzibar. And the British woman who had been close to the Maasai found him on his website doing this stove project. And she invited him to come to the Maasai land and then work with the Maasai women to design a good stove that can take the smoke out their house and also have to use less wood as they’ve been walking long distance to look for firewoods.

So when Professor Lange came, I got assigned to help him. I got very interested in what he’d been doing in Zanzibar. And we organized the Maasai women from three villages to work with us to design this stove. Took us about day and a half to get a good stove that the Maasai women like, and it cook all kind of food that they normally cook.

FLETCHER: Let me ask you a final question. Your visit to the United States, what was the purpose of the visit? Was it to promote this project?

MOITIKO: The initial of purpose of me being here in the United States: last year we get a grant to introduce a micro-grid solar electrification in the rural Maasai area–the first time the Maasai got electrification in this rural, remote area.

FLETCHER: Wow.

MOITIKO: So, because of that, the USAID, through their PEER program, which is a partnership to enhance and engage in research organization work under USAID, announced another supplement, $5,000 U.S. grant. And when we were working to install this micro-grid, there was a guy from Paonia, Colorado, who was a founder of Solar Energy International. He was traveling to a Safari in Ngorongoro Area, and he heard about our work through the guy who was guiding him. And to the good luck, he passed our car on the road, and they came back and met me and they talked to me, and he told me about his solar international organization, that they train some people. So when I see this supplementing grant, I said, why don’t I try to shape my skill and become more expert in solar electrification? So I apply for the grant, and they awarded us, and it made me to go to Paonia for one week of course to study about battery-based solar electrification. And that was the initial purpose of me to visit here in the United States.

FLETCHER: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for joining us, Kisioki Moitiko.

MOITIKO: Moitiko. Yes.

FLETCHER: Thank you very much for joining us and sharing this with our viewers.

MOITIKO: Yeah. Thank you so much. And for those who are interested to learn or to see what we have accomplished [incompr.] they can visit our website, which is www.internationalcollaborative.org. There’s a lot of information about what we’re doing in Tanzania.

FLETCHER: Great. Thank you very much.

MOITIKO: Thank you for having me here.

FLETCHER: Pleasure.

And thank you very much for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time. Take care.

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